The name comes from the rump of the animal, or the Dutch bil, while the second part of the word, tong, is just what is sounds like: ‘tongue’. (Don’t worry, we promise it isn’t made from tongues!)
Biltong is salty, beefy and tasty, and it’s definitely not just for paleo diets. A dried, cured meat from Southern Africa, it is typically made from beef, and sometimes game, as a snack for sale in the UK. It’s similar to but different from beef jerky. Unlike jerky it isn’t smoked, it uses vinegar, it’s cut thicker, and is less sweet. The meat is made into strips following the muscle grain. Like jerky it’s spiced, made with pepper, brown sugar, coriander and cloves. Many modern recipes use garlic, chili, nutmeg, paprika, lemon, and Worcestershire sauce.
Drying and curing meat in salt, vinegar and spices was the stuff of seafarers and nomads, a way of safely preserving meat for long periods of time. The grape vinegar used to marinate it fought off bacteria, and the spices provided antimicrobial properties. So what’s the big deal now, in the age of refrigeration? Meat snacking, for its convenience, flavour and instant whacks of energy without the sugar lows, is huge in the States and is growing in popularity in the UK. It’s a substantial, protein-rich alternative to many other snacks, and a great way to stay fuller between meals.
Increasingly biltong is also being made from chicken, flavoured with citrus and spices. Good news for people who prefer white meat.
The reinvented meat snack caters to the health-conscious and the gastronome. Gourmet versions include other meats like ostrich, and ingredients as unlikely as basil, orange and pineapple. We envisage more experimental biltong products in the near future, creating a versatile snack in established world-flavours and new, exciting creations. We hope that in time we will see much of this variety across halal products too.
Halal biltong should come from a halal certified supplier that ensures its marinades and other ingredients are halal. Look for suppliers that focus on values of tayyib (wholesomeness) too, to ensure that the meat you’re eating is the best quality, and that it comes from grass-fed animals, or free-range birds, free from antibiotics, hormones or pesticides.
Why eating halal biltong and other dried meats can be good for you
Lean meats are a flavour-filled, low-fat, low-calorie source of protein. They’re a good source of iron, vitamin B12 and choline, which helps with weight loss. As meat helps keep you fuller for longer, swapping your mid-morning or afternoon snack for a portion of protein allows you to control your appetite and even burn calories, as the body converts protein into energy faster than carbs do. Protein has a superabundance of benefits from supporting the absorption of important nutrients and protecting bone and muscle. All this can help us look leaner in the short-term, and help prevent diseases like osteoporosis in the long term. Beef biltong is high in protein. Typically 200g of beef are used for 100g of biltong. Some biltong can have up to 67% protein content with the process preserving the majority of the meat’s protein. Below we mention some of the ways to eat halal biltong as part of a home cooked meal. Accompanying biltong with other food types can make for an even healthier way to enjoy this Southern African meat.
Versatile ways to eat halal biltong
Biltong is typically eaten in snack form. But it is very versatile in hot dinners too. Like other cured meats, it is traditionally added to stews to give them richer flavour. It can also be enjoyed in the simple sandwich. For example, it’s delicious shaved onto a sliced, hard-boiled egg and avocado in soft, seedy bread. Throw in some green leaves like watercress, chard and baby spinach, and lots of salt and pepper. You can try adding halal biltong to a soup too. We love the flavour with a sweet potato or chicken-based soup, with leeks or broad beans, handful of emerald-green coriander or mint, and your favourite halal cheese. It works well too in pasta recipes, shaved onto ravioli or mixed in with a pasta bake. Try shaving it onto a poached egg for breakfast, or add it to a healthy brown rice meal. You can slice it atop an open sandwich or a pizza or a quiche. You can stuff beef of chicken with halal biltong too, or put it inside homemade bread. Why not give halal biltong a go at dinner one night this week?
A traditional recipe for halal biltong in home cooking
There are a lot of ways to use biltong, but if you want somewhere to start, why not try this delicious and easy-to-make traditional biltong stew featured in the African Network at the Guardian? The author mentions that it was served with sazda, which is a cornmeal-based staple eaten in East and Southern Africa, but mentions that you can also simply serve it with rice. This recipe includes many ingredients you’re likely to already have in the cupboard at home. Of course the great thing about cooking with halal biltong and other dried meat is that you can stock up for next time with no need to freeze and defrost. Easy, tasty and unique.